More on rapid prototyping for IAs

Heidi Adkinnson takes a longer look at Serena ProcessView Composer and Axure RP She also mentions that ConceptDraw has a new release coming up with WebWave.

Besides Heidi's take, Microsoft has developed a new tool for UX developers codenamed Sparkle. This Channel 9 video has an hour long segment on Sparkle. This is a tool to create UI that can be reused in .NET development, instead of throwing away comps and prototypes...looks very interesting.

Axure RP Pro: Rapid prototyping and documentation tool for website applications

I don't do as much formal specification writing these days as I used to, but I've been noticing some promising software for prototyping and specification writing lately. Could be that I've become so entrenched in the Visio world that I never pick my head up to take notice any more.

I downloaded the demo version of Axure RP ($589 for Pro, $149 for Lite version) after quickly viewing their Flash demo. This Windows only tool allows you to build a page hierarchy for a site and then design the pages by dragging and dropping widgets (like Visio stencil objects) onto the wireframe pane. As with Visio, you can link widgets to other pages and then generate the document as an HTML prototype. What intrigued me most was the Microsoft Word specification document that it produces, providing the wireframes with notes for all of the page objects.

Software like this seems like a real time saver for rapid development, which is the kind of work I've been doing a lot of lately without the actual prototyping bit. That is to say, I turn over informal specs and wireframes on short schedules. To be able to handle all of these tasks in one tool seems great. Anyone have any experience using this or similar tools? Which do you like best?

Personas & Scenarios in the wild

It's been interesting over the last 6 months to notice personas escaping from the design team out into marketing. Not surprising, since personas largely derive from marketing's user archetypes. Sightings: MSN Personas and IBM print ad (thanks Brett), and the more scenario-focused Macromedia Central Portraits and Vodafone's Future Vision. Vodafone's piece isn't just about marketing - it's scenarios in the sense of prototyping the future. Most of the scenarios involve technology that only exists now as concepts or clunky kludged prototypes, not the polished integration of wearable, mobile communications into everyday life depicted in their scenarios.

One of the challenges of personas being more publicly visible is that clients or other departments may start building up preconceived ideas about how personas work, what they should include, and how they should be used. The marketing scenarios and personas shown above are all valuable, but don't have the level of detail required to make decisions about behavior. I'm not sure how well George Olsen's Persona Toolkit would be accepted by folks who already have set expectations about the deliverable and its usefulnes.

Know of more public personas? Drop a line in the comments...

Jared Spool on iterative design with CSS...

Jared Spool has a nice little article on Iterative design and the power of style sheets.

Hmmm... It reminds me a whole lot of my article called Prototyping with Style from last month's Digital Web Magazine. (ia/ discussion) Of course, I wasn't the first one to come up with the idea of using CSS for prototyping purposes, but I picked the topic because there wasn't anything else being written about it. But I guess now there is.

I'm just sayin'...

Using CSS for prototyping

Jeff Lash takes on the perennial question of what prototyping tool should IAs use. While not abandoning Visio or Omnigraffle, in Prototyping with Style Jeff suggests that Cascading Style Sheets have a lot to offer and should be looked at seriously as a prototyping medium.

One advantage Jeff offers is that basic content can be laid out, with headings, body copy, navigation, supplementary information like disclaimers. This lets the team focus on the content first, and then CSS can be used to create a number of alternative layouts and visual styles.

While this may work with a mature team, many of the people I work with have a very difficult type grasping abstract presentation...whether it's sticky notes on a page, or vanilla XHTML, text only lists of page content. I've used mood boards, design the box exercises, and rapid throwaway photoshop comps to address these peoples' need to have something more visual to comment on, while still working to separate those stylistic inputs from actual IA and interaction design. I'm not sure CSS will help me there, but I'll see when I next have the chance to try something different than the usual wireframe fare.

Open Prototyping project

From the MIT Media Lab, Carson Reynolds has started a blog where he shows ongoing prototypes from his work. Using DENIM as one main tool, the site aims to improve UIs for open source products. (thanks PeterV)

Magnetic Prototyping Tool

Ben Speaks is selling a magnetic prototyping toolkit similar to many paper prototyping toolkits. It contains widgets and a magnetic board that can be written on with whiteboard markers.

I'm not sure what the benefit is beyond laminated widgets and post-it notes. Gimmick? Or real value? I guess I'd have to use it to see if I like it better than my laminated paper prototyping kit I made myself. Advantages to the home rolled version being that it was cheaper, and I have enough material for a dozen screens, not just one.

Whether or not it really works better than paper, I like to see people exploring with prototyping tools.

Paper prototyping discussion

In case you missed it, author Carolyn Snyder has weighed in on Keith Instone's earlier paper prototyping post about her book and paper prototyping in general. The discussion is well worth a read. Thanks for stopping in Carolyn! :)

HTML Wireframes and Prototypes: All Gain and No Pain

Julie Stanford writes about using HTML for prototyping in Boxes and Arrows.

Mention the use of HTML for wireframing or prototyping, and some information architects and interaction designers frantically look for the nearest exit. In some circles, HTML has acquired the reputation of being a time-consuming, difficult undertaking best left to developers. This is very far from the truth.

Defining Feature Sets Through Prototyping

by Laura S. Quinn, in Boxes and Arrows.

    Defining requirements and features can be a daunting task under the best of circumstances. The Vision Prototype allows the user-centered vision to be seen and discussed by all team members and then easily translated into a set of functional requirements.
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